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Steelers' Colbert: Mitchell deal sealed Woodley fate

| Sunday, March 23, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley plays against the Titans on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, at Heinz Field.

ORLANDO, Fla. — As it turned out, it wasn't Jason Worilds who ended LaMarr Woodley's stay with the Steelers. It was Mike Mitchell.

A month ago, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said it was possible financially to keep both Worilds and Woodley. But when the Steelers committed $25 million to sign Mitchell — even though the free safety is guaranteed only about one-fifth that sum — the flexibility to keep Woodley ended, Colbert said.

“Yeah, we could have (kept them both), but at what cost to the rest of what we're able to do?” Colbert said Sunday at the annual NFL meetings. “When it came down to it, when we really started to analyze where we were going to be … free safety was going to be the first target. When we were able to take care of that, it was going to be hard to keep both LaMarr and Jason.”

Woodley is a former Pro Bowl outside linebacker, while Worilds was a disappointment for 3 12 seasons before breaking out with seven sacks in the final eight games last season. Still, given Worilds' production outburst and 3½-year age advantage, and Woodley's three successive injury-disrupted seasons, the Steelers are convinced they made the right choice.

Woodley has since signed with the Oakland Raiders.

“Jason's coming off a highly productive year, and LaMarr wasn't, and we had to make a tough call,” Colbert said. “But any time you release a guy who's been part of your success, it's never easy, especially when you think that player has football left in him, as we do LaMarr.”

The Steelers designated Worilds as their transition player to keep him for 2014 — it could cost them $9.7 million — but it's likely they'll try to work out a multi-year contract to reduce their salary cap hit.

“We'll see where it goes with the rest of free agency and the draft and if it makes sense for both sides. But when we use the (transition) tag, we always use it with the thought of trying to get him signed to a long-term deal,” Colbert said. “That's certainly our hope, and I believe that's his wish as well. Usually, if you both have the same goal, it will work out at some point.”

Worilds' production took off when he replaced the injured Woodley at left outside linebacker after playing mostly on the right side until then. To coach Mike Tomlin, the switch in sides allowed Worilds to become the pass rusher the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him in 2010.

“I don't know that (Worilds) was any different. I just think the animal that he faces is a different animal,” Tomlin said. “That right tackle is a little different animal than the left tackle. I think if you're really looking for differences in performance or highlighting differences in performance, the true answer might be there as opposed to what Jason is doing.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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